On Addiction and Zombies

The following is my response to Colin Thomas’ Georgia Straight review: http://www.straight.com/arts/748046/deaths-door-plague-zombie-syndrome-familiar-yet-fun

Bill Croft in "On Death's Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome"

 Bill Croft in On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome (www.zombiesyndrome.com)

Dear Colin,

I am glad you had fun at this year’s “On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome”. That is certainly “Mission Accomplished” for me as an artist, as creating a fun and engaging night out for the audience is my primary objective with this piece. As well, thank you very much for your review and for addressing the metaphorical aspect of zombies with respect to addiction in the show. I would like to take this opportunity to perhaps open up a wider discussion on this topic, which I feel is tremendously important to our society today. With all due respect, in a playful spirit of discourse, I would like to challenge you a little bit.

There are inherent problems with the general statement, “Zombies are soulless, while junkies clearly aren’t.” First of all, zombies aren’t real. To expound upon their “souls” one must study the entire horror subgenre of zombie lore and try to establish some sort of baseline for these fictitious undead characters. Indeed zombies do have souls in some fiction (the romantic-comedy zombie film “Warm Bodies” comes immediately to mind). Furthermore, as a past participant of “The Zombie Syndrome” over the years, you likely know that in the world I have created there is in fact a cure that can bring zombies back to life. In fact, bringing zombies back to life is a common theme in horror stories. To me, these types of plotlines have unquestionable parallels with recovery from addiction.

The “soulless” nature of addiction is also a very interesting and complex topic that cannot be fairly encapsulated within a brief, generalized statement. Study of the text from any 12-step program will quickly reveal the important role spirituality plays in recovery from addiction. In fact, the role of “God” (or a Higher Power of some sort) is referenced in half of the twelve steps: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 11. Repairing a damaged soul is clearly the function of all 12-step recovery programs. Any alcoholic or addict in recovery will attest to this fact. The metaphor of an addict being a “zombie”, therefore, remains a valid one. When in the throes of addiction, the body and mind of the addict wander aimlessly except for the pursuit of satisfying the underlying craving, much like a zombie does. Of course an addict or alcoholic generally doesn’t want to eat human flesh (the craving in this case is usually drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, being-in-debt or eating) so the zombie metaphor indeed falls short at some point. But even that is changing. In recent years, with the rise of the designer drug Bath Salts, there have been reports of cannibalism when addicts are high. This recent news sadly further supports the similarities between zombies and the suffering addict or alcoholic.

Though no metaphor is entirely perfect, if used in innovative and exciting artistic works they can create dialogue that can lead to positive social change, while engaging audiences in an entertaining manner. Addiction support and mental health services are seriously lacking in our society. If we can put a half-billion dollar roof on BC Place we should be able to take care of those who are most in need. What’s lacking is political will. And, if addict-politician Rob Ford is any indication, there may be scores of zombies in office at levels of government that we are unaware of, bloodthirsty to satisfy their craving for power, perpetuating the problem. Now that’s a REAL horror story!

As for the slightly “grittier” location of this year’s production, in no way is this choice intended to make light of anyone’s suffering. In fact, our amazing partnership with EasyPark prompted the decision more than anything else. We regularly “sweep” areas prior to the show to inform people that our audiences are coming. Furthermore, our performers have been trained to focus entirely on the audience and avoid all bystanders. Yes, the location is edgier than in years past. But should we cower and promote a “no Fun City” mindset based on what neighborhood we are in? Do we need to live in fear? I would hope not. The city’s streets ultimately belong to the citizens of Vancouver and we should be able to have fun wherever we choose to walk, as a matter of principle.

I am okay if my metaphors are misunderstood or criticized. What is much more important to me is that we talk more about these important “social safety net” issues affecting our most vulnerable citizens. As a people, we can be doing much better. We need more homeless shelters, more support for people with mental illnesses, increased funding for addiction services and more programs for people with disabilities. More community dialogue is needed.

And I think it’s perfectly fine, important even, to have a lot of fun in the process. If one is dour in tone on a serious topic, the tendency is that nobody gets engaged and nothing happens. If people are having fun, you have their attention – and positive change is more likely to occur.

Andy Thompson

Writer / Director, “On Death’s Door: Plague of the Zombie Syndrome”

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